Grading Kyle Davidson's First Free Agent Class

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Grading Kyle Davidson’s First Free Agent Class

Chicago Blackhawks

This is the first full season with Kyle Davidson sitting in the general manager’s seat for the Chicago Blackhawks. He took over as the permanent GM on March 1 of last year and has orchestrated the beginning of a total organizational overhaul since.

The majority of the conversation about Davidson’s rebuilding efforts has been focused on trades, and rightfully so. He’s already made some of the more significant trades in the recent history for the franchise, including the departure of icon Patrick Kane at this year’s deadline.

But we really haven’t talked much about Davidson’s first free agent class much as a whole — until now. As the 2022-23 season winds down, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the complete collection of free agents Davidson signed last summer. How have they/did they perform for the Blackhawks this season? And what did they ultimately give the organization?

For the purposes of this conversation, we’ll focus on the players Davidson signed starting on July 12 of last summer until the beginning of the regular season. That includes two August additions to the organization. And I’m going to focus our efforts here on external free agents; re-signing restricted free agents (Caleb Jones, Philipp Kurashev) won’t be part of this discussion. I’m also not going to include AHL contracts signed by Rockford last summer, so David Gust won’t be included here.

Max Domi — A+

Signed: one-year, $3 million
On-Ice Performance: 60 games, 18 goals, 31 assists, 53.7% FO
Result: traded to Dallas with Dylan Wells for Anton Khudobin and a 2nd round pick in 2025

Domi bet on himself, taking a one-year deal to play for Luke Richardson in Chicago. Many — including me (raises hand) — questioned if a guy who was a career 44 percent faceoff guy could be a top-six center. He proved everyone wrong, establishing himself as a viable center with a strong performance at the dot and a bounce-back offensive season. His 49 points will end the season as the Blackhawks’ team leader despite him being traded out of town before the deadline (on his birthday). Getting a second-round pick back for him was terrific value; it’s better than many thought he would get when he signed. And I think there’s a strong number of fans who wouldn’t mind him re-signing in Chicago this summer when he’s back on the market.

Andreas Athanasiou — C+

Signed: one-year, $3 million
On-Ice Performance: 70 games, 14 goals, 13 assists, 15:55 ATOI
Result: remained in Chicago

Like Domi, Athanasiou bet on himself and the opportunity in Chicago. The good: according to Natural Stat Trick, he easily leads the Blackhawks with 60 high-danger scoring chances at even strength this season (Taylor Raddysh is second with 50). The bad: he’s only scored 10 goals in 940:09 of even-strength ice time this season (which is second among Chicago forwards behind Kurashev). His speed is painfully obvious on almost every shift, and he’s contributed on special teams as well throughout the season. But I would have liked to see him closer to the 20-goal mark. Maybe I’m spoiled because Domi’s deal worked out so well.

Alex Stalock — A-

Signed: one-year, $750,000
On-Ice Performance: 9-10-1, .915 save pct, 2 shutouts
Result: remained in Chicago

The only reason he gets an A- is because of the injuries, but we knew that coming in. Stalock was coming off an entirely missed season and has a career that, unfortunately, has been filled with physical issues. When he’s been on the ice, Stalock has been so much better than expected. His .915 save percentage is top-ten in the NHL among netminders with at least 20 appearances. What’s more, he’s been fun to watch on the ice and an incredible interview off the ice. If the Blackhawks can find a way to make it work with him back here next year, I would sign up for that in a heartbeat. He’s been a wonderful addition to the roster.

Colin Blackwell — F

Signed: two-year, $2.4 million ($1.2 million AAV)
On-Ice Performance: 53 games, 2 goals, 8 assists
Result: remained in Chicago

The Blackhawks announced Blackwell’s season was over on March 23 because he needed hernia surgery. When he was on the ice, the season was underwhelming at best for Blackwell. When he signed, he was referred to as a “useful bottom-six scorer.” He averaged one shot on goal per game (53 shots in 53 games) and shot a woeful 3.8 percent in 11:48 per night. Blackwell had his physical struggles this season, but Year One of his contract was an abject failure.

Jack Johnson — D

Signed: one-year, $950,000
On-Ice Performance: 58 games, 4 assists
Result: traded to Colorado for Andreas Englund

Johnson was, arguably, the worst defenseman in the NHL this season while with the Blackhawks. He came in as a veteran when the Blackhawks needed someone to eat minutes and he did that; his 19:50 per night will hold up as the second-highest average among Blackhawks’ defensemen this season. One might argue this grade should be an A because of the tank, but we can’t make that determination until after the draft lottery. Englund is a free agent this coming summer and might be an interesting candidate for a qualifying offer to play Jarred Tinordi‘s role as a physical force on the back end next year… but he hasn’t added much since the trade.

Cole Guttman — A

Signed: two-year, $1.9 million ($950,000 AAV)
On-Ice Performance (NHL): 14 games, 4 goals, 2 assists, 52.1% FO
Result: remained in Chicago

Guttman signed in August after he wasn’t tendered an offer by Tampa, who drafted him before he spent four seasons at the University of Denver. He isn’t the biggest guy, so there were questions about a four-year college player with his size contributing at the NHL level. After scoring 16 goals in 39 games in Rockford he got the call, and he was solid on a team that, at the time, was dealing with a lot of significant injuries. He fell victim to the injury bug; his season ended prematurely because of a shoulder injury. But I saw enough to be excited about his second season in Chicago. He wasn’t the captain of an NCAA championship team for nothing. Guttman’s a player.

Note: I’m not going to put grades on the four, two-way contracts the Blackhawks signed over the summer because all four have been primarily depth/role players in Rockford. However, only one of the four (Sikura) did not make an NHL appearance this season.

Luke Philp

Signed: one-year, $750,000 (two-way)
On-Ice Performance (NHL): 3 games, 1 assist
On-Ice Performance (AHL): 50 games, 22 goals, 22 assists
Result: remained in Chicago/Rockford

Philp has been good enough that the Blackhawks already signed him to a one-year, two-way extension for next season ($775,000 cap hit). The 27-year-old has tied his career-best 44 points in an AHL season with a couple weeks left to set a new benchmark, and he got called up for the first time in his career.

Brett Seney

Signed: one-year, $750,000 (two-way)
On-Ice Performance (NHL): 7 games, 1 goal
On-Ice Performance (AHL): 49 games, 19 goals, 27 assists
Result: remained in Chicago/Rockford

Seney’s 19 goals are tied for his career-best season in the AHL, and he provided adequate depth in the NHL when injuries opened the door for him to get a shot at the big league for more than two games for the first time since the 2018-19 season with New Jersey.

Dylan Sikura

Signed: one-year, $750,000 (two-way)
On-Ice Performance (AHL): 52 games, 14 goals, 18 assists
Result: traded to the Anaheim Ducks (San Diego Gulls) for Max Golod

Sikura was a relatively hyped prospect when he originally signed with the Blackhawks’ organization back in 2018. It never materialized. They moved him in an AHL player swap before the deadline.

Buddy Robinson

Signed: one-year, $750,000 (two-way)
On-Ice Performance (NHL): 6 games, 0 points
On-Ice Performance (AHL): 49 games, 9 goals, 10 assists
Result: remained in Chicago/Rockford

Robinson’s an enormous player, but he’s a career minor-leaguer. He was brought in to provide some size to the Rockford lineup and he’s done that.


The Blackhawks have 11 games left in the regular season for some of these players to improve their numbers, but the goal at the start of the year remains the same: establish the right culture in the room and get the best pick possible in the 2023 NHL Draft.

Davidson uncovered some really nice assets last summer, and the only players who signed for longer than one year were Blackwell and Guttman. Though the results on those contracts have been mixed, the others were good rentals for the place and time for the franchise.

Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab